How to Become a Middle School History Teacher
Learn how to become a middle school history teacher. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in teaching.
Do I Want to Be a Middle School History Teacher?
Middle school teachers generally instruct students in grades 6-8 in both public and private schools. Depending on the school, teachers may be responsible for teaching one or several subjects, such as history or social studies. They perform a number of duties, including meeting with parents, grading papers, preparing lesson plans, supervising extracurricular activities and setting classroom rules. Teachers generally work during the months and hours in which school is in session, but also plan lessons and assess students' work during other times. Unmotivated or disrespectful students can be challenging, and a great deal of patience and empathy may be required.
Regardless of the responsibilities and subjects assigned, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that all teachers need to have formal training resulting in a bachelor's degree and a certification or license if working in a public school. Student teaching is a common and important aspect of these training programs, but may not be required in all states to gain certification. Many states require that teachers earn continuing education credits to maintain licensing. Alternative routes to certification are available in all states for those who hold bachelor's degrees in other fields. Below, you'll find a table containing the core requirements needed to become a middle school history teacher.
|Degree Level||At least a bachelor's degree*|
|Degree Field||Majors vary widely by state; some desire a general education degree or a degree in the specific content area*|
|Licensure and Certification||A teaching license or certification is required, but the requirements differ by state; individuals must also pass a general teaching certification exam and a content-specific test*|
|Experience||For licensing/certification purposes, many states require student teaching experience while enrolled in a bachelor's degree program*|
|Key Skills||Strong verbal and written communication skills, comfortable speaking in front of groups, knowledge of historical facts and geography, active listening, critical thinking, the ability to be creative***|
|Computer Skills||Knowledge of Microsoft Office****|
|Additional Requirements||Criminal background check, citizen confirmation**; knowledge of multimedia projection equipment****|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **U.S. Department of Education, ***Careerinfonet.org, ****O*NET OnLine.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
To teach history to middle school students, the minimum education required is a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Appropriate majors include history, education, social studies or middle school education. Students may be asked to take a qualifying examination before beginning a teacher preparation program to assess a student's experience.
The curriculum for a bachelor's degree program in history with teacher licensure/certification typically includes core history classes, secondary education classes and general education content. Topics addressed may include curriculum and instruction, adolescent psychology, Civil War and Reconstruction, U.S. History and government, modern Europe and classroom diversity. These programs may also cover methods to teach history, how to teach special needs students and education planning.
- Use student teaching requirement to gain experience. The student teaching practicum (or capstone) is a segment of most teacher preparation programs and is designed to prepare the student for initial certification. The prerequisites of the practicum vary by program, but usually entail the completion of certain classes and a minimum grade or GPA in previous coursework. The fieldwork can last anywhere from 8-16 weeks and is supervised. Student teaching typically begins in the last semester of the bachelor's degree program.
- Explore other avenues to become a teacher if you already have a bachelor's degree. Another option to become a teacher is to enroll in an alternative certification program. These programs are governed by states and are for students who have a non-education bachelor's degree and want to earn a teaching certification but don't want to return to college to complete a teacher preparation program. The National Center for Alternative Certification reported that, in 2010, the District of Columbia and 48 states have some kind of alternative certification program for teachers. These programs have many grade level and subject area options. They may incorporate more field exercises, seminars and education coursework to supplement what could have been learned in a traditional teacher preparation program. This option may last from 1-3 years beyond a bachelor's degree program.
Step 2: Obtain a Teaching Certificate or License
Each state has its own certification type (e.g., certificate, educator credential, provisional license) and education requirements. The BLS states that teachers in private schools typically don't require teacher certification, but all states require certification for public school teachers. States don't always grant middle school teachers certification for their specific grade levels. For example, some states provide elementary certification to middle school teachers.
- Research your state's testing requirements so that you're prepared. After earning a bachelor's degree from an accredited teacher preparation program, what follows depends on a state's department of education. States have their own testing requirements and eligibility standards. According to the Educational Testing Service, approximately 40 states require 'The Praxis Series' tests for teacher licensure. These tests consist of a pre-professional skills test, a subject assessment and a teacher performance assessment. For a budding middle school history teacher, the 'Praxis' middle school social studies test covers U.S. and world history, government and geography and also requires an essay. Alternatively, there's the 'Praxis' middle school multiple subjects tests, which include questions for math, social studies, English language arts and science. For states that don't accept the 'Praxis' tests, a variety of other tests are acceptable and can be found on the U.S. Department of Education's website.
Step 3: Complete Professional Development Classes
Most states require some kind of professional development to evaluate new teachers and renew certification of experienced teachers. The timeframe varies from 1-5 years depending on the type of certification. Numerous organizations offer continuing education classes, workshops, seminars and conferences for teachers to improve their understanding of history (or social studies) and help them with instruction, student evaluations and lesson plans. The goal of professional development is to not only assess and improve a teacher's knowledge, but to increase what students learn and prepare them for standardized tests. One professional development resource for history teachers is the Annenberg Learner, a division of the Annenberg Foundation. The organization offers online, video and print tools for various grade levels in history.
- Consider becoming nationally certified to advance your career. After three years of teaching, licensed middle school history teachers can apply for certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. While optional, this enrollment can improve employment and salary opportunities as well as demonstrate leadership in the field. A variety of content exercises and portfolios entries are scored before acceptance is granted.
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